Report on the 148th London Eza The 25th Anniversary of the establishment of Three Wheels and the 1st memorial ceremony for the Late Mrs Hiroko Sato

On Sunday 8th of December, a large number of guests gathered for a very special Eza to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of Three Wheels and also to pay their respects to The Late Mrs Hiroko Sato, wife of Rev. Kemmyo Sato, who had sadly passed away exactly one year earlier. In fact so many people came that the Buddha room had to be very hastily rearranged so as to be able to accommodate everyone.

During the service everybody was able to offer incense to Hiroko San, who is still so acutely missed, in front of the Buddha and spend a few moments in quiet remembrance. During the whole service there did seem to be an atmosphere of peace, respect and gratitude, and everybody was able to think about Hiroko San and all that they had received from her.

After the service had finished Rev. Kenshin Ishii gave a talk entitled  “Spiritual Encounters in the History of Three Wheels”. This really was a wonderful talk, and really helped everyone much more fully understand how Three Wheels came to exist, and all of the history and events that have made Three Wheels the place that it is today for us to be able to visit and hear the Buddha Dharma.

To briefly summarise Rev. Ishii’s talk it all began when Mr Toda, a member of the Shogyoji sangha working in the U.K., was approached by UCL about a project to build a new laboratory in a collaboration between UCL and the company he was working for.

Coming to know him, the Professors at UCL became very impressed by Mr Toda’s way of thinking, due to his Buddhist upbringing. At that time there also happened to be an important 130th Anniversary of the arrival of Japanese students who had studied at UCL and had later gone on to become pioneers of modern Japan.

Being so impressed, some of the Professors ended up travelling all the way to Shogyoji, Mr Toda’s home temple in Japan. There some of them had deep spiritual encounters, especially Professor John White, Vice Provost at UCL. After this encounter Ven. Takehara , head priest of Shogyoji, sent an ensemble of Gagaku musicians to London for the unveiling ceremony of the monument for the Japanese students.

Accompanying Ven. Takehara was Rev. Sato, who was acting as interpreter. Unfortunately although his written English was very good he found that he struggled with spoken English, and after returning to Shogyoji  Ven. Takehara suggested he might stay in the U.K. for six months to improve it.

Soon after Rev. Sato’s returning to England, meetings to study Japanese Religion and culture began at Mr Toda’s house. At these first meetings participants studied and discussed each time a letter specially written by Ven. Takehara for the event. Unfortunately though shortly after that Mr Toda had to return to Japan and so there would now be nowhere to hold the newly started London Eza’s. As Ven. Takehara wanted the exchanges and encounters to continue, and after some discussions at Shogyoji, Three Wheels at no. 55 Carbery Avenue was purchased, with Rev. Kemmyo Sato as Director.

Since that time, many activities have occurred at Three Wheels which have led to many encounters and friendships. For example the building of the Zen Garden, not only resulted in a very beautiful garden that attracts many visitors, but also helped to forge and strengthen many of those friendships, not least of that between Rev. Sato and Professor John White, who designed the garden, and also between Rev. Sato, Professor White, and Mr Ogawa, the main creator of the garden. Mr Ogawa, a top Kyoto gardener, has been visiting and helping Three Wheels ever since at least once a year.

Another very important event, which started in 1997, is the annual Reconciliation ceremony to pray for world peace. This started at the request of Mr Masao Hirakubo, a WW2 veteran. Since then many British and Japanese war veterans who had suffered in the terrible battles in Burma, and who had nothing but hatred for their enemies, were amazingly able to meet and reconcile, and at last be able to find peace. They were even able to form strong friendships with their once enemies.

In light of his work with the Reconciliation movement and other contributions to Anglo Japanese relationships, in May of this year Rev. Sato was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor, a very prestigious award. Rev. Sato accepted this honour with humility saying that it was a decoration to be shared with all the people who had helped him. Along with the above recognition, and many other achievements, Rev. Sato has worked tirelessly over the last quarter of a century to make Three Wheels a haven for everyone and a place where we can hear the precious Shin Buddhist teachings of Shinran Shonin.

Of course the main person helping him was his wife, The Late Mrs Hiroko Sato, who had joined him in the U.K. in January 1995. Her warm welcoming smile made a huge impression on everyone who visited Three Wheels and it seemed to be in her nature to want to help and patiently listen to everybody. Rev. Ishii said that although Mrs Sato and Professor White may have been slightly in the background, what they have done in helping Rev. Sato develop Three Wheels over the years has been immense.

The talk was really able to show how much has happened over the last 25 years, how much we owe to so many people, and really just what an amazing place Thee Wheels is. We were also reminded that 25 years is a milestone but that Three Wheels should continue to grow and develop far into the future.

After Rev. Ishii’s wonderful talk there was time for the guests to reflect on their own personal experiences at Three Wheels and how it has affected their lives. Below is a brief selection of some of their impressions.

Mrs Kaori Punwani, who is in fact the daughter of Mr Toda, spoke of how she had grown up and spent nearly all her life connected with Three Wheels. She spoke of how supported she felt by the sangha and how she could still feel the love and compassion of her Dharma Mother Hiroko San. She went on to express her gratitude for everything she had received over the years.

Mrs Sanae Ishii, wife of Rev. Kenshin Ishii, spoke of all the special encounters she had had at Three Wheels. She spoke of all that she had received from Hiroko San and how she had been given a seed by her to make her want to listen more to the Dharma.

Mr Shogo Sakimura first of all thanked his Grandmother, Dr Ryoko Sakimura, who had been so instrumental in making Three Wheels exist in the first place. He then thanked Rev. and The Late Mrs Sato, who had been like parents to him since he had arrived in England to study at the age of 12, who had been supporting him all his life ever since. He said that knowing there is Three Wheels he cannot feel lonely.

Dr Stephen Montgomery, an original member of Three Wheels, talked about his encounters with Professor White and Mr Toda, and how Three Wheels had become a major part of his life. He talked about the time he had fallen ill in Japan, and how Hiroko San had patiently stayed with him and his wife at hospital to make sure that he received the best care.

Dr Lucien Chocron, editor of Three Wheels newsletter, again talked about Hiroko San’s warm smile and Mr Dave Zimmerman said that Three Wheels was just like a family that he could always return to.

Mr Brian Tott said that Three Wheels has a softness and tenderness that always made him feel welcome and that it was an antidote to the sometimes coldness and hardness of the world.

Mrs Etsuko Crellin said that by coming to Three Wheels she felt accepted just as she was, and because of that she was able to accept herself.

Mrs Kei Suzuki said that she felt she had been saved by Hiroko san’s love and compassion, and because of that she wanted to keep returning to Three Wheels to continue her spiritual journey.

Ms. Suzu ……….?, who grew up visiting Three Wheels, said that from the age of six she had wanted to find her religious roots, which she had been able to do at Three Wheels. She expressed her gratefulness to her Mother and Dharma friends.

Through everyone’s impressions there was an overriding sense of gratitude for what each person had received, and there really was a feeling of acceptance, harmony and friendship between all the participants.

Also,and especially through Rev. Ishii’s talk, we were able to see the importance of the friendship between Rev. Kemmyo Sato and Professor John White, which has been a driving force through the years. Apart from the foundation of Three Wheels and the construction of the Zen Garden, among the many fruits of their friendship have been the English translations of  the Shoshinge, the Tannisho and the Ofumi, which are priceless gifts for us here in England. More recently they have both worked tirelessly on translations of the Haiku by Bassho, Issa and Bouson, which have been received with much interest and anticipation.

It should also not be forgotten that Three Wheels most certainly would not exist without the guidance, support and generosity of Shogyoji, our parent temple. All the warmth and  kindness that we receive here in the U.K. comes originally from Japan. Those of us lucky enough to have visited Shogyoji have been able to experience the warmth of the sangha at its source.

The Late Mrs Hiroko Sato (Shakyamuni’s Disciple, Good Nun of Wonderful Seed) has had such a large effect on so many people. Through her compassion, wisdom and kindness she has without doubt planted a seed to make us want to listen to the Buddha Dharma, and to want to aspire to be born in the Pure Land through the Nenbutsu. She is the Mother of Three Wheels, still helping and guiding us.

Thank you to everybody who has made Three Wheels possible.

To conclude the Eza we were then informed of all the upcoming events that will be happening over the next few weeks, and then as usual it was time to relax and socialise over some good food and drink.

Chris Dodd